Band Returns to DC Roots
Published: Friday, October 25, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 24, 2013 00:10
The Beanstalk Library, a D.C.-based band, may grab one’s attention with its less-than-traditional name, but it’s the eclectic sound and admirable approach to producing music that wins the listeners and fans. The band is headed by Ryan Walker, a D.C. native who has been performing with various musicians as the Beanstalk Library since 2001 during his undergraduate days at James Madison University. The band has matured significantly since the 2007 release of its first album, America at Night, and has been comprised of the current six members for three years.
Although he did not start writing and performing until his college years, Walker was exposed to music from a young age. At just four years old, Walker took up the piano and fell in love with the sounds of the Beatles and Neil Young. He picked up the guitar in high school, and by the time he was in college, he felt inspired to give back to the institution that he loved so much.
“I just think I had this natural thing where I wanted to do that myself and I wanted to contribute work to this big pool of music, not just take from it,” Walker said of his decision to change from recreationally enjoying music to writing and producing it.
And so the Beanstalk Library was born. Their sound is almost impossible to describe — although it could be roughly compared to artists with “rootsy” vibes, such as Wilco, My Morning Jacket and Band of Horses — and that’s just how Walker and the rest of the band like it.
“I really don’t understand how people can just be into one thing all the time, in terms of their listening,” Walker said. “I like artists where there is a lot of different moods and styles reflected in their discographies.”
With a wide variety of talent and stylistic interest within the band, its members admit to drawing inspiration from a broad spectrum of artists, including Neil Young, Bob Dylan, the Kinks, REM, the Beatles, Elton John, the Replacements and Lush.
Walker understands the listener’s frustration in not being able to pinpoint one sound, but does suggest that their song “Feeling My Way In The Dark” is a great starting point for those unfamiliar with their music. “I think it really does capture the song-craft: there’s a lot of harmonies on it, there’s a lot of noisy guitar playing,” Walker said.
Apart from the dynamic harmonies and noisy guitar, the unofficial single of their newest album, “The View From Here,” incorporates some funky keyboard and an upbeat energy to fashion one of the more pop-influenced songs off the album.
“The first album is kind of safe. Like when we were making it, I think we just wanted to make a record that sounded good,” Walker said. “But I think that on this new album we really felt a lot more adventurous, like we wanted to play up some of the things that were a little weirder and more experimental.”
The Beanstalk Library has really come into its own due to its embrace of its own musical freedom as well an enhanced unity among the band members. While Walker approached America at Night as more of a singer-songwriter album, he feels that “The View From Here” reflects more of a collaborative effort from the entire band.
Lead guitarist Brian Pagels (GRD ’05) has seen the music scene in the district change firsthand. Pagels has lived in D.C. for almost a decade and speaks of a shift that encouraged artists to access many genres in their music.
“I think attitudes have started to shift now because there are a whole wealth of bands and singer-songwriters who are filling up multiple genres with the music they play,” Pagels said. “We fit into that category of bands that play across a number of different genres.”
The Beanstalk Library also prides itself on the energy that it brings to each of its performances. “There are plenty of bands that sound really good but their thing is not that much energy on stage, but we try to put on really energetic shows,” Walker said.
To experience the vibrancy firsthand, head over to Gypsy Sally’s this Saturday at 10 p.m. where the Beanstalk Library will be playing the Trick or Treat Fantastique Halloween Bash. The band has promised to perform in its most entertaining Halloween costumes and will also be playing some seasonal covers.
“You can expect a lot of fun. We’re approaching the show maybe a bit more like a party than we do some of our other shows,” Pagels said.